Email marketing is hands down the most important form of marketing that a business can do in the current online landscape. It’s personalised, measurable and effective. Learn all about the basics of email marketing, as well as 6 reasons why it’s so important for your small business.

By Ellie Keft

October 16, 2021

What is Email Marketing?

Ok, so what actually is email marketing.

I think it’s important to distinguish between sending an email, and email marketing.

Email marketing is sending promotional emails on a large scale, en masse, rather than our traditional sense of sending an email which is more like a letter.

When you’re doing email marketing, you’re sending out eDMs, or electronic direct mail. I guess that’s kind of more like a newspaper perhaps, but the difference is that it has the feeling of being an intimate, one-to-one conversation if done well.

Email marketing is super popular, to a point where it’s kind of unavoidable.

For instance, did you know that by the end of 2021 we’re on track to have 4.1 billion email users throughout the world, which is projected to grow to 4.6 billion users by 2025 (Statista). That’s more than half the projected population… which is wild, right?

And it’s also a major part of most people’s day, with 58% of adults checking their emails first thing in the morning, and 91% of people checking their email at least once a day on their phone (Campaign Monitor).

Not only that, but email’s ROI—return on investment—is much, much higher than other platforms, like social media.

For example, one source I found said that for every $1 spent (The Orchard), Australian businesses using email marketing were getting back at least $28, but likely as much as $50. That’s an ROI of 2000-5000%.

Compare that with social media, which has an ROI of more like 28%.

That’s a bit crazy, right?

And one of the reasons that email performs so much better is that the average order value of an email is 3x higher than that of social media (Campaign Monitor). So people are more likely to spend more via email than social media.

Also consider this…

The average click-through rate for email is about 2.5%, while on Facebook it’s 0.07% (Agency Analytics).

Meaning when someone opens an email, 2.5% of them click on something within that email. On Facebook, 0.07% click on the link… And I guess we could probably hypothesise that Instagram receives even less click-throughs given that most of the time, people literally need to see the post, read it, see the CTA to click link in bio, go to your profile, click the link, navigate your potentially fraught Linktree landing page, and then click through to your page.

Not to mention that IG users might not be as committed to or familiar with your brand as people who have actively bought from you or signed up to your email list, although this isn’t the case for everyone.

Also let’s consider direct mail, which is the paper mail you receive in your letterbox. On average, its ROI is about 5X less than email marketing. Meaning, not only are people less likely to invest in your product or service after they receive a letter from you, it’s also much more expensive to produce those materials (Campaign Monitor).

Alright, now we’ve looked at the numbers, let’s move on to the kinds of emails that people are sending.

There are a few different kinds of emails, but the main categories are either:

Single broadcasts or campaigns, which are standalone emails that you create in your ESP, and then schedule or send that to a particular list, or a segment of a list

Then we have…

Automated sequences or flows, which are a series of emails that are automatically sent out after they’re triggered. When you’re setting up the flow, you choose the trigger, whether it’s filling out a form or purchasing an item, and you also choose how many emails to send out, what they say, and what pace you send them out. That is, how many days between emails.


Re-engagement or winback automations, which are emails or a series of emails that encourage people to engage with your emails and content, if perhaps their engagement is waning. An abandoned cart email is I think considered a winback email too, where you send someone a reminder email if they have left an item in the cart but haven’t purchased it.

Email marketing is sending promotional emails on a large scale,

en masse, rather than our traditional sense of sending an email which is more like a letter.

Email List and Email List Building

A big part of email marketing is your email list, which is a list of contacts that you’ve collected through interactions with customers, and have permission to communicate with. It will depend what info you collect, but the list will usually contain first name and email address, but can also contain other pieces of data like their last name, birthday, address, etc.

Your list gets stored inside your email service provider, your ESP.

It’s a really valuable business asset that needs to be cultivated, cleaned and maintained to continue to be a useful resource.

So that includes building your list by coming up with ways to provide potential leads with valuable or intriguing content in exchange for their email address.

Regularly cleaning your list is also important for deliverability, that is, the rate at which your emails are being delivered to the intended recipients.

Basically, you want to make sure that you’re contacting people who are engaging with your emails.

So you’ll clean your list by archiving inactive users, or people who aren’t interacting with your emails for a long period of time, and who haven’t engaged with a winback email.

List hygiene, as it’s called, is a whole big thing that we can go into another episode. List building too, deserves much more attention than we can give it here.


Moving on, and I mentioned this briefly, but segmentation is a key part of email marketing. It’s a little bit advanced in the sense that it’s probably not something people need to really worry about at the beginning, but it’s important to know about it for later on.

A segment is a portion of that list that is broken off into its own mini-list, either dynamically as part of your platform, or manually depending on conditions you’ve chosen.

The word ‘dynamically’, in this context refers to the way that the platform can automatically bring together data available to it. It’s also dynamic because it’s constantly updating and changing, based on the data it has access to, or the conditions that have been set.

Segments can be created for things like:

  • People who’ve made a purchase
  • People who subscribed to your list through a particular form, say your newsletter form
  • People have opted to receive less frequent emails from you
  • Any kinds of demographics data like age, location, etc.

Aaand a bunch of other things.

Segmentation is great because it allows you to be more targeted in your communications, which is good because it’s more relevant and engaging for the recipient.


Personalisation is another way to keep emails feeling relevant and, well, personal.

Personalisation in email marketing can be as simple as including a tag that allows the email to say the recipient’s name rather than a generic hello.

That can happen in different ways, but the common ones are in the subject lines and in the email copy or text.

You can also personalise other things like imagery and offers, and this can be done dynamically, or by using segmentation.

Personalised emails are much more likely to be opened and interacted with.

Emails that use personalised subject lines get 41% better open rates, 14% better click-through rates and 10% better conversions (Campaign Monitor).

What is A/B Testing in Email Marketing?

Another thing I briefly mentioned was A/B testing, also known as split testing.

In the context of email marketing, this is where you create two options of a particular element of the email, and allow your platform to send half of your list option A and half of your list option B.

You can A/B test anything; subject lines, copy, imagery, offers, and so on.

You can also test more than two variables, and that’s called multivariate testing.

At the end of a campaign, your platform will tell you which one performed best and it’ll help you learn more about what your audience engages best with.


Why is email marketing important?

Ok so now I want to look at some reasons why I reckon email marketing is important.

#1 It’s the Most Effective Marketing Platform when it comes to your ROI

First reason, it’s the most effective marketing platform when it comes to your ROI—‘return on investment.’

I mentioned this in the last episode, but the ROI for email is between 2000 and 5000%, compared to socials which is more in the 20-30% ROI range.

Now obviously there are caveats here… like you’ll need to be emailing marketing well and consistently.

You also will need an engaged email list, all these types of things.

But overall, it’s a platform that offers high returns.

Another thing that makes it more effective is that more people use email than say Instagram, which is by far the most popular social platform that most people I chat to are using.

About 4 billion people use email, while it’s more like 1 billion for Insta.

This alone isn’t a reason to use email; you’ll obviously still need to know where your audience is hanging out online.

For example, 16 year olds aren’t part of my audience (I don’t think?), but I don’t think those kids are really subscribing and opening a lot of emails, but they will check their Tiktok account a billion times per day.

But on the whole, email is a popular platform.

Now I know some of you might be thinking, ‘I hate receiving emails so why would I do that to my audience’.

Well let me ask you this…

Are there any brands or people who send you eDMs that you often open?

And are there any that you have clicked on a link or an image within?

Have you ever received an email, clicked on the link, and bought the thing?

Just because you have an overall hatred for emails, it doesn’t mean that they don’t work.

Just because there’s a bad taste left in your mouth from some shitty emails you’ve received, it doesn’t mean that great, well thought-out emails don’t exist.

And just because you have content overwhelm, email overwhelm, and you’re just at capacity with what information you can take it, it doesn’t mean your audience is the same.

And, it doesn’t mean that you can’t create content that does cut through, that does create value.

And think about it, if you have say 50 people on your email list and you get 25% opening the email and engaging with it, then that’s 12 people whose day you’ve potentially improved, 12 people who have learnt something useful that will change the way they do life or business or love or something.

I just think it’s important to reframe it like that, because often people don’t want to add to the noise, but the way I think of it is…

Firstly, don’t add to the noise but instead make sure you’re spending some time creating quality content for your audience…

And secondly, the people who don’t like what you’re sharing can unsubscribe if they want to.

No big deal, no ill-feelings, and no loss on your part. Simple.

#2 It’s a Mega Brand Builder

Ok moving on to number two, email marketing is a great brand builder.

It’s a really great opportunity to boost brand awareness and familiarity, and to build trust between you and a large number of people.

It requires consistently providing value, and is a great way to ensure your brand and offerings stay top of mind.

That way, people might engage with you more passively or more actively depending on where they’re at.

And they’ll know that you’re there when they’re ready to act, or they might act when you deliver them some content or messaging that really urges them into action or suits their situation at that time.

One stat I love though to exemplify how brand building needs to take a multichannel approach—that is, doing it on multiple channels and platforms—is that email subscribers are 3x more likely to share your content via social media than visitors from other sources (Campaign Monitor).

I love this because it shows that brand and trust building piece, and how people generally trust you and your brand more when you’re popping up in different places, at different times for them.

The other reason that email marketing is great for brand building is that it, along with social media, is the main place you’ll be distributing or sharing the content you’re producing. That is, if you’re producing any content.

So it’s a really great place to provide value that is based around your key messages, your core offering and your content pillars.

#3 It’s great for Building Relationships, too

Number three, email marketing is great for building relationships as well.

Email marketing is quite intimate in that it feels like a one-to-one conversation, like you’re speaking directly to the customer, but without having to literally reply to every single DM as you would on social media.

And it feels especially so if you’re utilising personalisation, as mentioned.

Take notice of the emails you receive, does it make you feel like the sender is speaking directly to you?

If not, they’re not utilising the magic of that possible intimacy.

Speaking one-to-one is an actual artform though; it requires skilled copywriting, and a seriously ninja-like understanding of your offering, your niche, your target audience and your customer avatar.

So it’s not something that most brands achieve overnight, if at all.

But for this reason, email marketing is a fantastic place to nurture the leads that come into your digisphere, your digital ecosystem.

#4 It’s an owned Platform

Alright onto number four…

Email marketing is important because it’s an ‘owned’ platform.

Now I explain what that means waaaay back in episode 1 on digital marketing but let’s do a quick recap.

So as you might remember, we have paid, earned and owned media, and also what I dorkily called ‘tenuously rented’ media.

Paid media is pretty self explanatory, but it’s just a form of media that’s paid for. So social media or search engine ads, sponsorship and affiliation marketing.

Earned is more about media and mentions that you’ve earned through reputation, virality of content and messaging, and comes in the forms of publicity pieces, unsolicited reviews, word of mouth and sharing your content.

Finally, owned media is any channel or platforms that you can control. Now here’s where it does get a bit murky—websites are an obvious form of owned media, but what about social media?

Social media is what I call ‘tenuously rented’ media because social platforms have full control of what you share and how you share it, but you do kind of ‘own’ the audience that you built up because you’ve earnt the right to communicate with them.

Ok so now we’re clear on that…

Why is it important that email marketing is an owned platform?

Well, when we talk about email marketing as being ‘owned’, we’re really talking about the email list that you have built.

Meaning, over a period of time, you have gradually collected the necessary data needed to communicate with a person via email.

If you’re following the rules, you’re doing that by offering value to a person in exchange for their details, and you’re also asking for permission to communicate with them ongoing, beyond that first engagement.

Now one thing to note, just because you own the right to communicate with a person, it doesn’t mean you always will. They always have the right to withdraw that consent and ask you to leave them alone, aka the unsubscribe.

And the other thing to consider here is that the email hosts of your users have the discretion to be able to deliver or not deliver your content. If they detect SPAM, or that something is amiss, they won’t deliver it.

But putting all those things aside, your email list is an asset that you have built up in your business and that you (air quotes) OWN.

And that means that you have a direct line of communication between you/ your brand, and your leads or audience members.

#5 It Benefits your overall Marketing Program

Email marketing works really well in the bigger machine that is your marketing program and overall offering delivery.

To explain this, it’s important to know about an industry rule that gets talked about a lot, and that’s that it takes a lot of touchpoints to result in a conversion or sale—specifically, eight, but that number changes depending on your marketing, your industry, etc.

So it means that if someone came across you on social media, they then need to see you pop up in some other places to then take a meaningful action like a purchase.

That might mean they see an IG post first, then they might hear you interviewed on a podcast, then they might read a blog you wrote, and then they might see a Facebook ad from your business.

And after seeing you that many times, trust begins to grow, and they become more likely to make the purchase or sign up or whatever.

So it’s all about creating trust, and creating a memorable brand, and imprinting your brand and your messaging in someone’s mind.

And of course, every person will have different timelines, different trust levels, and different money relationships, so it’ll be harder to get some to a point of conversion than others but that’s the general gist.

But I tend to just see it this way; if sending an email is going to be that final touchpoint that gets them to take that action, and if you knew how easy it was to send that email… why wouldn’t you?

So it’s all about creating trust, and creating a memorable brand, and imprinting your brand and your messaging in someone’s mind.

#6 It will Future-proof your Biz

Ok and lastly, number six, email marketing will future-proof your business.

Now, by all accounts, email marketing ain’t going nowhere.

It’ll change and adapt like everything in life, but it’s pretty solid. No one seems to think it’ll die.

So I have a couple of reasons for you why email marketing will future-proof your business.

Firstly, its capabilities in automation and AI—that is, artificial intelligence.

The great thing about email automation is that it allows you to deepen connections with your leads at scale and without you having to be all hands on deck all the time.

For example, let’s consider this example of sharing an Instagram post.

Let’s say you spend X amount of time writing the post and picking the image, let’s say 30 minutes, but I’m sure it’s more time than that for some of you.

Then you post it or schedule it, and it’s out in the world.

People engage with the—let’s say 100 people engage with it, and let’s say that 3 take the action you’ve invited them to take, like buying a product, for example.

After a few hours, that post starts to lose its oomph and gets less and less interaction; maybe less reach but almost definitely less actual click-throughs.

So in this example, for 30 minutes of your time, you’ve got 3 leads… ever.

Let’s do the same thing for an automated email flow that’s turned on in your email platform.

So you spend let’s say 4 hours writing and setting up an automated flow of three emails spaced out over a week or so, for every person in your contacts who visited a particular page of your website.

So that means that everyone who you have on your list, that you have an email address for, will receive an automatic flow from you when they visit that URL.

You with me? They visit the URL, and the next day receive an email from you without you having to lift a finger.

Ok so say 3 people per day visit that page.

So now your email platform is going to automatically send out 3 emails to each of those 3 people, spaced out over a few days.

And then the next day, it’ll do the same thing.

So let’s say at the end of 90 days, about 3 months, you will have sent a total of about 750 emails to a total of about 250 people.

And let’s say that out of those 250, 3% convert, meaning they take an action you want them to take, like buy the thing.

I chose 3% because that was the percentage that converted in the Insta example.

So overall that means around 8 people convert from the emails sent.

So in this example, you’re getting more than double the conversion with email, and this is just the first 90 days.

Imagine if you had that happening behind the scenes for a few years.

Plus, you can still do that 30 min Insta post, I’m not saying abandon that!

But I just wanted to exemplify how powerful automated email can be.

And my very last point I wanted to make…

Another reason why investing in email will future-proof your business, is that socials are just so bloody unreliable, unstable and unpredictable.

I have two examples of that;

One, the dummy spat from a few months ago when Facebook banned all news media.

Overnight, some small businesses had literally NO way to talk to any of their customers or audience members.

Can you imagine what that would do to your business if that happened to you?

For some of you, maybe not much. But I know many of my clients would be pretty F-U-C-Ked.

So investing in other platforms is really important.

Secondly, Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 14 has really changed the way that marketers can use it to communicate with their audience and find new leads, when it comes to Facebook and Instagram advertising.

So if you’re unaware about all of this, maybe Google it because I don’t have time here to go into it in detail…

But basically, some major updates to the software as part of that release included new privacy features, more permissions for things like location tracking, as well as camera and microphone access.

And the biggest thing is that the new iOS14 means that users need to opt in to having their data collected, rather than opt out, when they are using apps on their iPhone.

So it’s much harder to reach people using ads because many people have elected not to opt in.

So all of that to say that investing in other platforms, like email, is important, in order to future proof your ability to communicate with your people the way you want to, and also to find new people that fit your target market.

This article is based on an episode of my podcast, Unearth Your Herd… check it out!

Alrighty we made it! Just to recap those six reasons email marketing is important:

#1—It’s the most effective marketing platform when it comes to your ROI

#2—It’s a mega brand builder

#3—It’s great for building relationships

#4—It’s an owned platform

#5—It benefits your overall marketing program

#6—it will future-proof your biz

As always, a lot of info there so if you have questions or even suggestions of how to make these podcast episodes more useful for you, reach out on Instagram.

Feel free to head to my website podcast page and use the question form if that’s better for you.

Photo credit: Roman Kraft

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